Today in Japan, eight countries, chief among them the United States of America, have signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which aims to curtail piracy and intellectual property theft across shores. The European Union, Mexico, and Switzerland have not signed the agreement, though they support it and have stated they will sign it “as soon as (it’s) practical.”
The agreement, signed by the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, is a voluntary agreement that provides a legal framework for member countries to pursue defence and/or litigation against copyright and/or patent infringers, though the text had been weakened from previous drafts that had been leaked to the Internet. However, ACTA—which is very similar to the United States’ Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA)—would require other countries to bring about America’s legislation in terms of package searches and seizures, as well as the monitoring of electronic devices.
The agreement has been dogged by controversy from the moment it became public knowledge. Negoations for ACTA had been held in secret for years, with the administration of United States under President Barack Obama calling them critical to national security and rebuffing any Freedom of Information requests. Some of the countries who have negotiated the agreement, chief among them the EU, have complained about the secrecy of the negotiations as well as the United States’ forceful style in both enforcing secrecy and pushing their requests upon the other countries. There are legal questions as well: legal provisions within ACTA supercede established law in the United States, which means that to be fully enforceable, it’s possible that the agreement would need Congressional approval to become law as it is currently not a full treaty.
ACTA is open for signing by other countries until 2013. The United States is hoping to bring other governments on board before that time. Notable among the economically strong countries not in negotiations for ACTA include typical U.S. antagonists Russia and China.
The entirety of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement can be read here.
Analysis: For those of us living in the United States, ACTA won’t make too much of a difference. Most of what’s in this bill is already covered by the DMCA, which isn’t quite as bad as it’s been made out to be. The DMCA is a curse word because groups like the RIAA and MPAA have used it as a blunt object to put forth their own agendas.
However, what’s truly offensive about this agreement is how the United States has bullied other so-called “allies” into accepting their own laws at the behest of their own private businesses. There’s no other way to put this: America has effectively been beating the shit out of the UK and Canada to please those two previously mentioned groups, who have managed to effectively buy their way into American government by way of billions of dollars in lobbying efforts. It’s shameful, and citizens in these countries—especially Canada with its excessively hostile business climate towards consumers with the lack of choice available for Internet needs—have every right to be offended by the United States’ imposing its will so harshly. Canada’s Conservative government has effectively kowtowed to America on this front, and with the Torries now having a full majority, we can only expect that to continue. The fact that the Obama administration has called ACTA a matter of national security would be laughable if it weren’t real. It reminds me of Alberto Gonzales saying that money saved towards piracy funded terrorism.
As for how this will affect gamers, it will make it harder to acquire software and/or hardware that could—not will, could—be used to get past someone else’s copyright. R4 and other similar devices are already hard to bring into the country, but with other countries now showing a willingness to search packages for things that pose no legitimate danger to their citizens, more of these devices will be picked up before they reach their destination. No one’s going to cry about R4s being searched, but it’s going to make both shipment of and travel with electronic devices—especially laptops or iPods—a much larger hassle. It’ll be made worse by the fact that they will be searched by untrained, largely incompetent and sometimes utterly antagonistic border security, who can make a traveler’s life a living hell just because they want to.